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‘Magic Islands’ On Titan Explained

First Posted: Apr 19, 2017 04:30 AM EDT

"Magic islands," as the bright anomalies on Saturn's moon are known, may actually be streams of bubbles, new study suggests. These bubbles, which are more than an inch wide, are unlike those that can be found on Earth and may actually complicate any future missions to Titan.

The Cassini spacecraft was able to peer through Titan's thick and hazy atmosphere in 2013, where scientists found that despite the seas and lakes usually appearing dark, bright anomalies that mysteriously disappeared were found on Ligeia Mare, Titan's second-largest sea. Daniel Cordier, a planetary scientist at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne in France, told Space.com that the physical process of the strange behavior is still not understood by the scientific community.

Previous research suggested that the "magic islands," as they were called, were not actually islands, alien creatures or spacecraft but were gas bubbles or floating solids. However, Cordier and his colleagues suggest that the anomalies were actually due to Titan's unstable seas, which may be fizzing.

The researchers also suggested that winds, tides or the effects of heating and cooling in Titan's seas may force surface mixtures to flow downward, releasing nitrogen gas bubbles as liquids separate and then rise back to the surface. Because bubbles are highly reflective to radio waves, they look brighter under radar scans.

CNN noted that Titan is the only moon with clouds and a dense atmosphere, giving it its weird appearance. It is also known to have Earth-like bodies of water on its surface. However, its lakes and seas are comprised of liquid ethane and methane. These then form clouds and cause liquid gas to rain down from the sky.

Despite its atmosphere and Earth-like qualities, Titan is still not hospitable for human life. Nonetheless, its mystery makes it particularly attractive to researchers like Cordier, who wants to investigate how waves are generated on Titan's seas, among other things.

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